Hopes are high as Massachusetts Pirates set to kick off fifth indoor football season at the DCU Center
WORCESTER — It’s the early days of spring, so that means the Massachusetts Pirates again are about to set sail in search of prized treasure.
The Worcester-based indoor football team will kick off its fifth season at 1 p.m. Sunday when it hosts the Green Bay Blizzard in Indoor Football League action at the DCU Center. That’s the first of 15 regular-season games, including seven at home, over the course of 17 weeks before the playoffs commence in July.
Organizational expectations again are as high as the seven hills that dot New England’s second-largest city.
“For us, it’s always going to be championship or bust,” Pirates co-owner and team president Jawad Yatim said earlier this week. “That’s how we truly feel, and we feel like we have a real opportunity this year (to win the championship).
“The atmosphere in camp has been great, and the new guys have been receptive to the environment and the overall operation as a whole. And, obviously, the returning guys know what we expect. Everybody is focused on that one goal of winning a championship, and we’re just working toward it.”
The Pirates have posted a cumulative record of 41-20 and qualified for postseason play in each of their first four seasons. They won the IFL championship in 2021 before going 11-5 and dropping a one-point decision in the quarterfinals at home last season.
It’s all about offense in football these days — be it the indoor or outdoor game — and the Pirates have a talented and veteran quarterback-receiver combo in Alejandro Bennifield and Thomas Owens.
Despite missing significant time last season due to injury, Bennifield threw for 28 touchdowns and rushed for 13 while tallying nearly 1,600 total yards in 10 games.
“He’s going into his fourth season with us, so he’s as familiar with the organization as anyone we have,” Yatim said of the 6-foot-1, 210-pound lefty from Lovejoy, Georgia, who majored in criminal justice at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
“He’s real comfortable here and has been productive for us, so the main thing for us is to keep him on the field. And it starts with the pieces he needs to be successful because as a quarterback you’re only as good as what’s around you.”
Owens is the biggest piece of the puzzle.
The 6-1, 199-pound wideout, a Florida native and Florida International University alum, is a two-time first-team all-IFL selection who owns 15 team records, six of them set in the playoffs. He finished second in the league last season in receptions (67), receiving yards (911) and receiving touchdowns (22).
Owens, a respected team leader and mentor, averaged 13.6 yards a catch, which is a massive number considering the field is 50 yards long.
“He’s arguably the most consistent player that we’ve ever had come through here,” Yatim said. “When we need a big play, he’s there for us. Just based off his production over the last three-plus years, he shows up every weekend ready to play and enthusiastic about playing.”
The Pirates are one of 14 teams in the IFL, 11 of which are located west of the Mississippi River, including iconic indoor organizations like the Iowa Barnstormers and Arizona Rattlers.
The IFL fostered a relationship with the XFL during the offseason in which it serves as a de facto farm system for the pro minor league, and has partnered with Simplebet to get its game lines and odds distributed to major sports betting platforms.
The state of Massachusetts has approved the IFL for sports betting, and one can wager on the league via DraftKings.
“That was a good step for us; it was a great development,” said Yatim, a 2008 graduate of Shrewsbury High.
The Pirates held a season-ticket member event last weekend at Uno Pizzeria & Grill in Worcester, and Yatim said enthusiasm among the fan base was as high as he’s ever seen it.
What the Pirates are continually working hard to do is expand their fan base in a region that has other high-quality sporting options in the Worcester Railers and Worcester Red Sox.
“The direction has always been gradual improvement,” Yatim said. “Every year we’ve seen gradual improvement from an enthusiasm standpoint, from a ticket-sale standpoint. We’re just trying to figure out ways to expediate that process.
“But, yeah, I guess it’s the same challenges any organization would go through. This is a very competitive market, and staying relevant, staying in the public eye, it’s not the easiest thing, but we stay aggressive with it, and we work our hardest to do so.
“We’re going to continue to keep pushing here and continue to push out good teams and good product, and hopefully people will take notice and come on board Pirate Nation.”
—Contact Rich Garven at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Massachusetts Pirates ready to kick off fifth season at DCU Center